Stock Analysis

Shenzhen Expressway (HKG:548) Seems To Be Using A Lot Of Debt

SEHK:548
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. Importantly, Shenzhen Expressway Corporation Limited (HKG:548) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Shenzhen Expressway

How Much Debt Does Shenzhen Expressway Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2022 Shenzhen Expressway had debt of CN¥34.8b, up from CN¥23.6b in one year. On the flip side, it has CN¥4.97b in cash leading to net debt of about CN¥29.8b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:548 Debt to Equity History February 3rd 2023

A Look At Shenzhen Expressway's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Shenzhen Expressway had liabilities of CN¥19.9b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥22.6b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of CN¥4.97b and CN¥2.37b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total CN¥35.1b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the CN¥17.4b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Shenzhen Expressway would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Strangely Shenzhen Expressway has a sky high EBITDA ratio of 5.6, implying high debt, but a strong interest coverage of 1k. So either it has access to very cheap long term debt or that interest expense is going to grow! Importantly, Shenzhen Expressway's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 26% in the last twelve months. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Shenzhen Expressway's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Shenzhen Expressway recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.

Our View

On the face of it, Shenzhen Expressway's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. It's also worth noting that Shenzhen Expressway is in the Infrastructure industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Shenzhen Expressway has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn't float our boat. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 2 warning signs with Shenzhen Expressway (at least 1 which is potentially serious) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Shenzhen Expressway is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.